Smithfield Herald

Board puts bond issues on ballot

Some Johnston county commissioners voiced concerns Monday as they agreed to put two bond issues on the November ballot.

On Nov. 5, voters will decide whether to borrow $57 million for the Johnston County public schools and $7 million for Johnston Community College.

Though Monday’s board vote was largely procedural, meant to pass the decision along to voters, Commissioner DeVan Barbour questioned specific spending in the bond proposals, especially the $57 million for the public schools.

Barbour, who served on the Johnston school board for 10 years, was concerned mostly about the school bond not placing more emphasis on classroom space. The $57 million would, for example, build a field house and renovate a gym.

“There’s things on this list I’m sure are needed,” Barbour said. “But are they needed more than classrooms are needed?”

He was concerned also about using long-term debt to fund short-term needs. Barbour referred specifically to $3 million for technology that he said could be obsolete in just a few years.

Barbour said he supported the referendum, but would like to see the money spent more effectively.

“I would hope that they will take a second look at it and maybe make some adjustments to reflect some of these things and go forward,” he said in an interview.

Commissioners Allen Mims and Cookie Pope echoed some of Barbour’s concerns, and Commissioner Ted Godwin thanked Barbour for bringing them up. The vote to put the public school bonds on the ballot passed 6-1, with Barbour voting against knowing it would pass. The $7 million bond issue for Johnston Community College passed unanimously.

On Wednesday, the school system countered that it planned to spend the $57 million effectively.

Tracey Peedin-Jones, a spokeswoman for Johnston County Schools, said the school system made spending decisions using data that predicts where growth will occur in the county.

She said the superintendent’s staff worked with Raleigh-based Operations Research and Education Laboratory to make enrollment projections for each school. The schools then used those projections to decide where to build new campuses and where to renovate.

“That has been discussed for numerous months with the county commissioners and the board of education members,” she said.

Additionally, Peedin-Jones said, the $3 million in technology is for infrastructure that will last at least 10 years.

The November bond referendum for the public schools will be the fifth since 1999, said Rick Hester, county manager. He said the four previous referendums all had a high passing rating, at around 70 percent.